Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction


Date of this Version



J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 151 (5), May 2022




Noise in healthcare settings, such as hospitals, often exceeds levels recommended by health organizations. Although researchers and medical professionals have raised concerns about the effect of these noise levels on spoken communication, objective measures of behavioral intelligibility in hospital noise are lacking. Further, no studies of intelligibility in hospital noise used medically relevant terminology, which may differentially impact intelligibility compared to standard terminology in speech perception research and is essential for ensuring ecological validity. Here, intelligibility was measured using online testing for 69 young adult listeners in three listening conditions (i.e., quiet, speech-shaped noise, and hospital noise: 23 listeners per condition) for four sentence types. Three sentence types included medical terminology with varied lexical frequency and familiarity characteristics. A final sentence set included non-medically related sentences. Results showed that intelligibility was negatively impacted by both noise types with no significant difference between the hospital and speech-shaped noise. Medically related sentences were not less intelligible overall, but word recognition accuracy was significantly positively correlated with both lexical frequency and familiarity. These results support the need for continued research on how noise levels in healthcare settings in concert with less familiar medical terminology impact communications and ultimately health outcomes.